I’m a wimp when it comes to machinery. A couple weeks ago, I got a new blender. I was terrified of it. It’s loud, it goes really fast and there’s no telling when the blade will shoot out of the bottom of it and through the top, mangling everything in its path. Right? A week later I was sitting on a snowmobile in the Muskokas and being told to just “pull up there and stop.” Come on. What if a mother deer jumps out in front of me and I run over it, launching myself off the machine and orphaning a baby deer?
I grew up in a part of rural Ontario where kids used to ride snowmobiles to high school and park them on the football field. It’s surprising that this was the first time I’d ever actually sat on one. My dad owns an ATV but I’ve only ever sat on the back of it and despite plenty of invitations, I’ve refused to drive the thing. Too big, too powerful, too noisy, too much potential for tipping over sideways, lodging my head in a trailside bog with only my legs sticking out. Bob, my snowmobile instructor for the day up here, tells me that ATVs have about 40 horsepower engines. The snowmobile I’m sitting on is rarin’ to go with 135 HP. He motions at me to pull up ahead and stop, like it ain’t no thang, like I can just do that.
Bob is an instructor at Yamaha Snowmobile Adventures, which is brand new this winter and works in partnership with the nearby Deerhurst Resort to offer introductory snowmobile lessons and tours to resort guests. You can head off on a 1.5-hour, 3-hour or full-day excursion on your own snowmobile, which includes a brief period of instruction and practice runs.
To make the thing move, you press down on a throttle on the right handlebar. To stop, just let go, or hit the hand brake on the left handlebar. A certain finesse is required, Bob tells the group, which becomes pretty obvious as I lurch my way to the first practice stopping point. The engine revs before you move forward, which makes it feel like you’re about to launch yourself into and through whatever’s in front of you. As soon as I start moving, I instinctively let go of the throttle and lurch to a stop. Then I repeat. My first rounds of the practice course are a bit like riding an ailing horse on a boat in high seas.
After some starts and stops and practicing going around bends, we head out to a snow-covered private runway (closed for the season) to practice getting up a bit of speed. I creep up towards 20 km/h still safe enough for a school zone, mind you and I feel like I’m flying.
Once we’ve got the very basic hang of things, Bob asks if we’re all comfortable and off we go along the trails, maintained all winter long by the local chapter of the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs. We climb up a hill to a lookout point overlooking frozen Peninsula Lake and then ride back down and onto the trails owned by Deerhurst Resort. You can travel by snowmobile almost anywhere here, and winter actually makes it a lot easier to get around in some cases, when you’re travelling by snowmobile. Bob tells us it takes him 30 minutes to get to work by car, and half that time if he travels by snowmobile, across a few frozen lakes.
The lake is striped with snowmobile trails, a wide snowmobile superhighway etched into the snow. The OFSC puts markers on the lake to denote where it’s safe to go. From Deerhurst, we ride right onto the lake, past a hockey rink and out into the wide open. I crank my throttle and get up to 40 km/h, then 50 km/h. I consider breaking out of my place in the snowmobile lineup to see how fast this puppy will go (180 km/h, Bob tells me) but this is a quintessentially Canadian activity after all, and I keep my place in line.
Back at the Yamaha Snowmobile Adventures HQ, I reluctantly step off my rig and consider the logistics of owning one in downtown Toronto. It probably wouldn’t fare too well on the streetcar tracks so I decide I’ll focus on seeing what my blender’s capable of instead.